Sunday, April 03, 2016

Road to Denali, part 12: Lost in the Woods

I guess we were due for a setback and we should had one. Not a lot went right on this trip. The plan was to ski into Thunder Lake (8 miles) Friday after work. Camp there and then climb Tanima and the Cleaver. Not only didn't we climb any peaks, we couldn't even find the lake. We broke a pole. We lost my glacier glasses. We had a hard time getting the stove lit. We had a bit of trouble even putting up the tent. I have huge blisters on my heels. And the worst, by far, is that I'm having trouble seeing out of my right eye.

Things started out fine. We were skiing up the trail at 5 p.m. About four miles in we saw a solo snowshoer coming down. He'd been out since Wednesday and told us that our track was about to run out. Sure enough, a bit further we were breaking trail. It wasn't much extra effort, but the lack of a track would prove problematical the next day.

At 7:30 with our light rapidly fading, my back and heels were hurting me pretty good and I changed plans to camp earlier. We had planned to just ski in the dark, right up to the cabin at Thunder Lake. This plan would have only worked if there was a track leading to that cabin. I'd been up to the area of Thunder Lake four previous times and only once found that damn lake, which is rather large. The track always seems to disappear at this tiny log crossing and the trail, which even when covered is pretty easy to follow up to here, disappears. There is no clear path anywhere. So, we camped at about 5.5 miles in.

The tent was twisted up a bit with some lines wrapped around each other and it took us awhile to understand what was wrong. Our hands were rapidly getting very cold and it was getting darker and darker. We had stomped out a nice platform and once the tent was up we even dug a footwell in the vestibule. We'd seen this on a video of how to erect our tent in the snow. This is really nice thing to do, as it gives you a lot more room in the vestibule and a place to sit.

We then had a terrible trouble getting our XKG started. I pumped and pumped and couldn't get any liquid to come out. I'd open the value and we'd hear gas escaping. There wasn't supposed to be any gas at this point. Normally you have to burn the liquid to heat up the tube that will turn the liquid to gas. We couldn't understand it. we tighten all the connections and kept trying. I gave up at one point and figured we'd just have to head out in the morning, out of liquids. I gave it one more try and got it going, thankfully. It wasn't kicking ass boiling the water, though. It was taking a long time, but we kept it going until 11 p.m. We both ate pretty heartily and then went to sleep.

The next morning we were moving slowly. I asked Derek to give a try with the stove, but he wasn't interested. We didn't need to get it going, as we had more than enough water from the night before. I'd forgotten the hot chocolate, but didn't bring some coffee concentrate, but we passed on it. To get an early start? No! To stay in our warm bags and rest some more. I finally got up and put on my boots at 7 a.m. - later than we had hoped to start from the lake, though we were at least 90 minutes below the lake

We were skiing up the trail around 7:30 a.m. I'd eaten some breakfast and continued to eat. Derek did not. This is something we need to fix. I stopped after less than 30 minutes to shed, as I was too warm. We both had on our big mitts, but switched to lighter gloves when we pulled off a layer. The wind howled above us, but we were nicely sheltered in the trees. Derek took over the lead here and our pace was very slow. When we passed the tiny log bridge, I took over the lead to horrible results. We wandered around in the woods and I was completely baffled by the surrounding mountains, what I could see of them at least. We are still in dense woods here and it is difficult to get a feel of exactly where you are. I had loaded the maps onto my phone and put in a waypoint for Thunder Lake and then left my phone in the car.

Heels hurting, wind howling, lost, motivation dropped to zero at the 8.5-mile mark. We'd find out later that we had gone by the lake to the north and were considerably above it. I knew you had to descend to the lake, but I thought you didn't do that until you had gone closer to 8 miles. This was wrong. I hadn't been up there in years and forgot the necessary landmarks.

We turned around and headed for home. It was really sunny and when I went to put on my glacier glasses I found out that I'd left them at the tent. We kept the skins on until we regained the highpoint of the trail, after 1.5 miles or so. The snow was sticking in giant globs to our skins and I couldn't stand it any longer and pulled off the skins. When I caught and passed Derek, he decided to do the same thing. I continued down to the tent, thinking I'd get a jump on the packing and that Derek would be fine. Derek was fine, but he didn't break a pole trying to knock snow off the bottom of his skis. Coming down with one pole is considerably harder.

He joined me at the tent and we finished packing up. In the packing, I apparently left my glacier glasses behind, as I can't find them. Dang it. I gave Derek my poles and skied out with his single pole. This was a huge challenge, not only in the fast, tight turning descent, but also in the sections where poling in the primary form of propulsion. My pack weighed a ton and it was a huge chore getting out of there.

There is a short, two-switchback climb on the way out and I took off my skis and walked this section, as it isn't really possible to climb it without skins on. At the top, in the bright sun, I sat down to wait for Derek. I ate and drank and put on some sunscreen. I must have got some sunscreen in my right eye, as I immediately had trouble seeing clearly out of it and now, the next day, it is even worse - like I'm looking through a film. I sure hope this can be fixed. I'll see if I can get in and see an eye doctor to figure out how to clear it up

Ugh. An epic failure. We have some things to correct. I did 18 miles on skis in my boots last weekend with no blister trouble. I thought that problem was corrected. I don't know what was different this time. Hopefully Neptune will replace the pole that is just two weeks old... If not, serves me right for not buying at REI.

I sure hope they have that trail up Denali well marked or we might end up climbing Foraker instead. At least there are fewer trees up there...


Charlie said...

Bummer about all the issues, etc. But you gotta have the bad days to have the good days, I guess...

Gayla Wright said...

Better to run into problems now and figure out how to solve them or at least deal with them now. It problably will not be a problem free climb on Danili, so chalk this past weekend up as a great learning experience. Keep your phone attached to your body as well as your sun goggles. Broken pool, forgotten hot chocolate are a heads up as to what can happen. In Danali you will be days away from civilization so you can not afford to have these mishaps. Having four on your expedition is so important. More heads to put together to solve any mishaps.
You both were so upbeat last night at dinner. One would never guess about your last 24 hours. More power to you both. Proud of you both.